Friday, August 23, 1996

Eclipse of Reason
Max Horkheimer 1946

"The root of fascist agitation is the fact that there is something rotten in language itself... We must beware of the idea that the fascist use of language is something new in our society... The distrust of the peasant against the city-dweller with his mastery of language... is an element of anti-Semitism... in the prehistory of what you explain as the fascist handling of language." Horkheimer in a letter to Lowenthal of July 1946.

Eclipse of Reason

Max Horkheimer (February 14, 1895 – July 7, 1973) was a Jewish-German philosopher and sociologist, known especially as the founder and guiding thinker of the Frankfurt School of critical theory.

Horkheimer's book, Eclipse of Reason deals with the concept of "reason" within the history of Western philosophy. Horkheimer defines true reason as rationality. He details the difference between objective and subjective reason and states that we have moved from objective to subjective. Objective reason deals with universal truths that dictate that an action is either right or wrong. Subjective reason takes into account the situation and social norms. Actions that produce the best situation for the individual are "reasonable" according to subjective reason. The movement from one type of reason to the other occurred when thought could no longer accommodate these objective truths or when it judged them to be delusions. Under subjective reason, concepts lose their meaning. All concepts must be strictly functional to be reasonable. Because subjective reason rules, the ideals of a society, for example democratic ideals, become dependent on the "interests" of the people instead of being dependent on objective truths.

Writing in 1946, Horkheimer was strongly influenced by the Nazi legacy in Germany. He outlined how the Nazis had been able to make their agenda appear "reasonable", but also issued a warning about the possibility of this happening again. Horkheimer believed that the ills of modern society are caused by the misuse and misunderstanding of reason: if people use true reason to critique their societies, they will be able to identify and solve their problems.


Read more about The Frankfurt School

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